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Decision No. 18,197

Appeal of CLIFFORD T. BRADSHAW from action of the Board of Education of the Duanesburg Central School District regarding curriculum.

Decision No. 18,197

(September 15, 2022)

Girvin & Ferlazzo, PC, attorneys for respondent, Erin R. Morris, Esq., of counsel

ROSA., Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the Duanesburg Central School District (“respondent”) to deny his request to remove a novel from the district’s digital library.  The appeal must be dismissed.

On March 1, 2022, petitioner wrote to the district’s high school principal and assistant principal to request that the electronic book and digital audiobook of a particular novel be removed from the high school’s digital library.  Petitioner took issue with some of the novel’s language and themes. 

On April 13, 2022, respondent denied petitioner’s request.  Respondent stated that a special committee comprised of the library media specialist, an English Language Arts teacher, and the principal (the “committee”) reviewed the novel and found that it had “value in the representation of diverse voices,” that the “sexual material was not the dominant theme,” and that “the use of profane language was a stylistic feature of the modern realistic genre which contributed to the thematic development” of the story.  Thus, respondent decided to retain the book in its school library for students in grades 9-12.  This appeal ensued. 

Petitioner contends that respondent’s decision was improper and asks for an “investigation” into the novel at issue.

Respondent argues that petitioner has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Initially, an appeal to the Commissioner is appellate in nature and does not provide for investigations (Appeal of D.C., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,223; Appeal of Huffine, 48 id. 386, Decision No. 15,893).  Accordingly, I decline to grant petitioner’s request for an investigation.

Turning to the merits, a board of education has broad authority to prescribe the course of study in the schools of the district (Education Law § 1709 [3]; Appeal of McLoughlin and Carusi, 44 Ed Dept Rep 336, Decision No. 15,191; Appeal of Murphy, et al., 39 id. 562, Decision No. 14,311; Appeal of Smith, Jr., 34 id. 346, Decision No. 13,335).  This includes the ability to manage its library collection.  A school district’s discretion to remove material from its collection, however, is not unfettered.  “[L]ocal school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained [there]in …” (Board of Ed., Island Trees Union Free School Dist. No. 26 v Pico, 457 US 853, 872 [1982]). 

I will not substitute my judgment for that of a board on curriculum issues absent evidence that the board has acted in an arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable manner (Appeal of Munch, 47 Ed Dept Rep 199, Decision No. 15,667).  In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of P.C. and K.C., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,337; Appeal of Aversa, 48 id. 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884).

Petitioner has failed to prove that respondent’s determination was arbitrary or capricious.  While petitioner has plucked choice words and phrases from the book, he has failed to evaluate the book in context.  Each member of respondent’s committee, by contrast, read the entire book and concluded that the book’s themes and language provided examples of diverse voices and navigated complex themes that would benefit a high school reader.[1]  Petitioner did not submit a reply or otherwise respond to respondent’s analysis of the book.  Accordingly, petitioner has failed to meet his burden of showing that respondent’s determination to retain the book in its collection for students in grades 9-12 was arbitrary and capricious. 

In light of the foregoing, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.




[1] The Supreme Court has held that “a school must … take into account the emotional maturity of the intended audience” in the related context of “determining whether to disseminate student speech on potentially sensitive topics” (Hazelwood School Dist. v. Kuhlmeier, 484 US 260, 272 [1988]).